Defy Gravity at Aerial Expressions

By Rebekah Giambroni
W

hen Susan Stevens left coaching gymnastics after 25 years due to a move, it left an empty spot in her heart. Around that time aerial acrobatics was emerging on the West Coast. When she saw this new sport during her travels, she instantly fell in love. “It was an extension of everything I had done as a gymnast and a dancer. It was beautiful. And it was something I could do in my thirties and forties.” She realized then that coaching could still be part of her life and opened Aerial Expressions in Shreveport.

Now in her thirteenth year of coaching, Stevens is passionate about the sport, which she emphasizes is acrobatics, not yoga. Aerial Expressions focuses on proprioception – the awareness of the movement of the body in space. There is a good deal of physics involved, learning how each part of the body in motion affects the others. Stevens likens the sport to kinesiology since it involves a continuous study of the muscles and their movements. 

 

The students, who can be as young as age four, begin with practicing basic movements on the floor mats. They do them repeatedly, committing them to muscle memory before moving on to the silks – massive fabrics hanging from a single point. Next comes fabric theory, which is essentially applying the movements they’ve learned, now off the ground. The students must focus on how their bodies are weaving with the fabric to accomplish the tasked maneuvers. Stevens instructs the girls to focus on which muscles are tightened as they practice a split in the air, upside-down. The legs must work together, or it throws off the balance of the entire body. Their movements are fluid and graceful, they make climbing, flipping, and spinning look effortless. As their skills progress, they are able to perform the motions while continuously spinning. 

 

While most of Aerial Expressions’ clients are solely there for the challenging fun, roughly 10 percent of her students compete. The competitive team recently took home top honors in Wisconsin and six of Stevens’ students qualified to be on Team USA and will be competing in Europe this fall. Their success is a testament to her expertise in coaching. Her oldest student is a 67-year-old retired dancer, who currently is top in the nation competitively. 

 

Aerial is great for the body, as it strengthens the muscles, increases core strength, and improves balance and coordination. Additionally, it is fantastic for the mind. Aerial can help to regulate one’s emotions by focusing on the body and breathing. It works wonders for those with sensory issues and some of the students with attention disorders have loved how it enables them to clear their mind to have a singular focus. Aerial can be a great place for those who may not have found a good fit in other sporting activities. “My greatest joy is to see a kid grin and say, ‘I did it!’” Stevens said. “That’s why I teach. We teach them there are no limits.”

 

Stevens welcomes all ages, and even if you simply attend a party or one session, you will walk away with a skill you did not have before you walked in. However, she does stress you should not try aerial in your own home. While it can look like a toy, it truly is a piece of acrobatic equipment that requires training. If you’ve tried it all and desire something new, or perhaps you’ve never been much for sports, aerial acrobatics may be the perfect workout for you.

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